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Introducing… the DI Leaders Roundtable

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2019, Leaders Roundtable

Today, I’m introducing what I hope to be the first of several regular features, the DI Leaders Roundtable.

Every week or two, I’ll be putting a single question to a collection of domain industry and ICANN community leaders and compiling their responses in order to gain some insight into current thoughts on hot topics or broader industry trends from some of the space’s top thinkers.

I’ve tried to reflect a broad cross-section of the industry, with a mix of business, policy and technical expertise from registries, registrars, back-ends, new gTLDs, legacy gTLDs, investors, etc.

The initial line-up for the panel, which will likely evolve as time goes by, is, in alphabetical order.

Ben Crawford, CEO, CentralNic

MugshotCrawford is CEO of CentralNic, a triple-play domain company based in London and listed on the Alternative Investment Market. Initially a vendor of pseudo-gTLDs such as uk.com and gb.com, CentralNic has over the course of the last seven years evolved into a company that sells both its own self-managed TLDs, such as .sk, as well as acting as a back-end for the likes of .xyz, .site and .online. Describing itself as a consolidator, the company nowadays makes most of its money via the registrar side of the house as a result of a series of mergers and acquisitions, particularly the merger with KeyDrive last year.

Jothan Frakes, Executive Director, Domain Name Association

MugshotA long-time industry jack-of-all-trades, Frakes is currently executive director of the Domain Name Association, the prominent industry trade group. Frakes has acted in a number of roles at domain name companies, as well as co-founding the popular NamesCon conference back in 2014. His technical credentials can be exemplified by, among other activities, his participation in Mozilla’s Public Suffix List, while his policy nous could be vouched for by many who have worked with him during his 20 years of ICANN participation.

Richard Kirkendall, CEO, NameCheap

MugshotKirkendall founded leading budget registrar NameCheap in 2000 and has occupied the office of CEO ever since. A long-time Enom reseller, NameCheap’s popularity was for many years shrouded in mystery. It finally transferred the last of its Enom names over to its own accreditation in January 2018, revealing it to have 7.5 million gTLD names under management. It added a further two million over the next 18 months, and says it has over 10 million names in total. NameCheap is known for its low prices and for its occasional support for pro-freedom political causes such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Tech

MugshotMueller is an academic and among the most prominent voices in ICANN’s Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group. Based at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he founded the Internet Governance Project, an independent policy research outfit, in 2004. He’s the author of several books on the topic, and very active in ICANN policy development, including the current effort to balance privacy rights with commercial interests in the Whois system.

Jeff Neuman, Senior VP, Com Laude

MugshotNeuman is senior vice president of brand-protection registrar Com Laude and sister company Valideus, which provides new gTLD consultancy services to brand owners. From 2000 until 2015, he worked in senior policy and registry business roles at Neustar, helping to apply for and launch .biz in 2001. A noted ICANN policy expert, Neuman has sat on various ICANN working groups and currently co-chairs the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, which is developing the rules for the next round of new gTLDs.

Jon Nevett, CEO, Public Interest Registry

MugshotNevett is CEO of Public Interest Registry, which manages the 10-million-domain-strong legacy gTLD .org and a handful of new gTLDs. Prior to PIR, he was executive vice president of Donuts, and one of its four co-founders. He’s been in the domain business since 2004, when he joined Network Solutions as a senior VP on the policy side of the house. Nevett has also been involved in ICANN policy-making, including a stint as chair of the Registrars Constituency.

Michele Neylon, CEO, Blacknight

MugshotNeylon is CEO and co-founder of Blacknight Internet Solutions, a smaller registrar based in Ireland. Known for his “often outspoken” policy views, he’s a member of several ICANN working groups, sits on the GNSO Council representing registrars, and is a member of stakeholder group committees for various ccTLD registries including .eu, .ie and .us. Blacknight has almost 60,000 gTLD registrations to its name but also specializes in serving its local ccTLD market.

Dave Piscitello, Partner, Interisle Consulting Group

MugshotPiscitello is currently a partner at security consultancy Interisle Consulting Group, having retired from his role as vice president of security and ICT coordination at ICANN last year. With over 40 years in the security business, he’s also a board member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). Interisle is an occasional ICANN security contractor.

Sandeep Ramchamdani, CEO, Radix Registry

MugshotRamchandani is CEO of Mumbai-based new gTLD registry Radix, which currently has a portfolio of 10 gTLDs and one ccTLD. It’s known primarily for its low-cost, high-volume, pure-generic business model, which has seen its two best performers, .online and .site, rack up almost three million domains between them. Radix is a unit of Directi Group, which is where Ramchandani cut his teeth for almost a decade before taking the reins of Radix in 2012.

Frank Schilling, CEO, Uniregistry

MugshotSchilling started off as a domain investor at the second level, 19 years ago, eventually managing hundreds of thousands of secondary-market domains with his company Name Administration, before founding Uniregistry in order to invest in new gTLDs in 2012. As a registry, Uniregisty has about a quarter of a million names spread across its 22-TLD portfolio; as a registrar it has over 1.2 million domains under management. Schilling is widely considered one of the most successful domain investment pioneers.

Rick Schwartz, aka the “Domain King”

MugshotSchwartz is viewed by domain investors as one of the most successful domainers of all time, and is known for his forthright, blunt criticisms of both new gTLDs and poor domain investment strategies. He’s been buying and selling domain names since 1995, and has sold several category-killer .com domains for seven-figure sums. Schwartz also founded the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. domainer conference in 2004, and it ran for 10 years.

ICANN must do more to fight internet security threats [Guest Post]

ICANN and its contracted parties need to do more to tackle security threats, write Dave Piscitello and Lyman Chapin of Interisle Consulting.

The ICANN Registry and Registrar constituencies insist that ICANN’s role with respect to DNS abuse is limited by its Mission “to ensure the stable and secure operation of the internet’s unique identifier systems”, therefore limiting ICANN’s remit to abuse of the identifier systems themselves, and specifically excluding from the remit any harms that arise from the content to which the identifiers point.

In their view, if the harm arises not from the identifier, but from the thing identified, it is outside of ICANN’s remit.

This convenient formulation relieves ICANN and its constituencies of responsibility for the way in which identifiers are used to inflict harm on internet users. However convenient it may be, it is fundamentally wrong.

ICANN’s obligation to operate “for the benefit of the Internet community as a whole” (see Bylaws, “Commitments”) demands that its remit extend broadly to how a domain name (or other Internet identifier) is misused to point to or lure a user or application to content that is harmful, or to host content that is harmful.

Harmful content itself is not ICANN’s concern; the way in which internet identifiers are used to weaponize harmful content most certainly is.

Rather than confront these obligations, however, ICANN is conducting a distracting debate about the kinds of events that should be described as “DNS abuse”. This is tedious and pointless; the persistent overloading of the term “abuse” has rendered it meaningless, ensuring that any attempt to reach consensus on a definition will fail.

ICANN should stop using the term “DNS abuse” and instead use the term “security threat”.

The ICANN Domain Abuse Activity Reporting project and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) use this term, which is also a term of reference for new TLD program obligations (Spec 11) and related reporting activities. It is also widely used in the operational and cybersecurity communities.

Most importantly, the GAC and the DAAR project currently identify and seek to measure an initial set of security threats that are a subset of a larger set of threats that are recognized as criminal acts in jurisdictions in which a majority of domain names are registered.

ICANN should acknowledge the GAC’s reassertion in its Hyderabad Communique that the set of security threats identified in its Beijing correspondence to the ICANN Board were not an exhaustive list but merely examples. The GAC smartly recognized that the threat landscape is constantly evolving.

ICANN should not attempt to artificially narrow the scope of the term “security threat” by crafting its own definition.

It should instead make use of an existing internationally recognized criminal justice treaty. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime is a criminal justice treaty that ICANN could use as a reference for identifying security threats that the Treaty recognizes as criminal acts.

The Convention is recognized by countries in which a sufficiently large percentage domain names are registered that it can serve the community and Internet users more effectively and fairly than any definition that ICANN might concoct.

ICANN should also acknowledge that the set of threats that fall within its remit must include all security events (“realized security threats”) in which a domain name is used during the execution of an attack for purposes of deception, for infringement on copyrights, for attacks that threaten democracies, or for operation of criminal infrastructures that are operated for the purpose of launching attacks or facilitating criminal (often felony) acts.

What is that remit?

ICANN policy and contracts must ensure that contracted parties (registrars and registries) collaborate with public and private sector authorities to disrupt or mitigate:

  • illegal interception or computer-related forgery,
  • attacks against computer systems or devices,
  • illegal access, data interference, or system interference,
  • infringement of intellectual property and related rights,
  • violation of laws to ensure fair and free elections or undermine democracies, and
  • child abuse and human trafficking.

We note that the Convention on Cybercrime identifies or provides Guidance Notes for these most prevalently executed attacks or criminal acts:

  • Spam,
  • Fraud. The forms of fraud that use domain names in criminal messaging include, business email compromise, advance fee fraud, phishing or other identity thefts.
  • Botnet operation,
  • DDoS Attacks: in particular, redirection and amplification attacks that exploit the DNS
  • Identity theft and phishing in relation to fraud,
  • Attacks against critical infrastructures,
  • Malware,
  • Terrorism, and,
  • Election interference.

In all these cases, the misuse of internet identifiers to pursue the attack or criminal activity is squarely within ICANN’s remit.

Registries or registrars should be contractually obliged to take actions that are necessary to mitigate these misuses, including suspension of name resolution, termination of domain name registrations, “unfiltered and unmasked” reporting of security threat activity for both registries and registrars, and publication or disclosure of information that is relevant to mitigating misuses or disrupting cyberattacks.

No one is asking ICANN to be the Internet Police.

The “ask” is to create policy and contractual obligations to ensure that registries and registrars collaborate in a timely and uniform manner. Simply put, the “ask” is to oblige all of the parties to play on the same team and to adhere to the same rules.

This is unachievable in the current self-regulating environment, in which a relatively small number of outlier registries and registrars are the persistent loci of extraordinary percentages of domain names associated with cyberattacks or cybercrimes and the current contracts offer no provisions to suspend or terminate their operations.

This is a guest editorial written by Dave Piscitello and Lyman Chapin, of security consultancy Interisle Consulting Group. Interisle has been an occasional ICANN security contractor, and Piscitello until last year was employed as vice president of security and ICT coordination on ICANN staff. The views expressed in this piece do not necessary reflect DI’s own.

ICANN slashes new gTLD income forecast AGAIN

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has yet again been forced to lower its funding expectations from new gTLDs, as the industry continues to face growth challenges.

In its latest draft fiscal year 2019 budget, likely to be approved at the end of the month, it’s cut $1.7 million from the amount it expects to receive in new gTLD transaction fees.

That’s even after cutting its estimates for fiscal 2018 in half just a few months back.

New gTLD registry transaction fees — the $0.25 collected whenever a new gTLD domain is registered, renewed or transferred, provided that the gTLD has over 50,000 domains under management — are now estimated at $5.1 million for FY19

That’s up just $500,000 from where it expects FY18, which ends June 30 this year, to finish off.

But it’s down $900,000 or 15% from the $6 million in transaction fees it was forecasting just four months ago.

It’s also still a huge way off the $8.7 million ICANN had predicted for FY18 in March 2017.

Registrar new gTLD transaction fees for FY19, paid by registrars regardless of the size of the TLD, are now estimated to come in at $4.3 million, up $400,000 from the expect FY18 year-end sum.

But, again, that number is down $800,000 from the $5.1 million in registrar fees that ICANN was forecasting in its first-draft FY19 budget.

In short, even when it was slashing its FY18 expectations in half, it was still over-confident on FY19.

On the bright side, at least ICANN is predicting some growth in new gTLD transactions.

And the story is almost exactly reversed when it comes to pre-2012 gTLDs.

For legacy gTLD registry transaction fees — the majority of which are paid by Verisign for .com and .net — ICANN has upped its expectations for FY19 to $49.6 million, compared to its January estimate of $48.7 million (another $900,000 difference, but in the opposite direction).

That growth will be offset by lower growth at the registrar level, where transaction fees for legacy gTLDs are now expected to be $30.2 million for FY19, compared to its January estimate of $30.4 million, a $200,000 deficit.

None of ICANN’s estimates for FY18 transaction fees have changed since the previous budget draft.

But ICANN has also slashed its expectation in terms of fixed fees from new gTLD registries — the $25,000 a year they all must pay regardless of volume.

The org now expects to end FY18 with 1,218 registries paying fees and for that to creep up slightly to 1,221 by the end of FY19.

Back in January, it was hoping to have 1,228 and 1,231 at those milestones respectively.

Basically, it’s decided that 10 TLDs it expected to start paying fees this year actually won’t, and that they won’t next year either. These fixed fees kick in when TLDs are delegated and stop when the contract is terminated.

It now expects registry fixed fees (legacy and new) of $30.5 million for FY19, down from expected $30.6 million for FY18 and and down from its January prediction of $31.1 million.

ICANN’s budget documents can be downloaded here.

NamesCon dumps the Trop, eyeing beaches for 2020

Kevin Murphy, May 14, 2018, Domain Services

GoDaddy-owned annual domain industry conference NamesCon has decided to ditch Las Vegas after its 2019 event.

The show is now looking for ideas for a new location close to a beach, according to a post on its web site.

The January event next year will be held at the Tropicana hotel on the Vegas strip, for the sixth year running, but NamesCon said:

if you have any city/venue suggestions you’d like to throw in the hat for NamesCon Global 2020, send them our way! Here’s a hint to steer you in the right direction: we’re looking to be leaving Las Vegas, and we’d love to sink our feet into a sandy beach somewhere…

The current industry thinking is either Florida or California.

The change comes following feedback from attendees at this year’s show, who seem to think the Trop is a little pokey (it is) with crappy food options (also true, particularly if you’re a picky eater like me).

On the other hand, the hotel is also cheap as chips, so NamesCon is looking for somewhere new that is just as affordable for 2020 and beyond.

NamesCon is promising to “send ourselves off in style” at the 2019 show, which runs January 27 to 30.

As a matter of disclosure, I’ve agreed to moderate a panel at sister event NamesCon Europe in Spain next month. I’m not being compensated beyond a complementary media pass.

ICANN flips off governments over Whois privacy

Kevin Murphy, May 8, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has formally extended its middle finger to its Governmental Advisory Committee for only the third time, telling the GAC that it cannot comply with its advice on Whois privacy.

It’s triggered a clause in its bylaws used to force both parties to the table for urgent talks, first used when ICANN clashed with the GAC on approving .xxx back in 2010.

The ICANN board of directors has decided that it cannot accept nine of the 10 bulleted items of formal advice on compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation that the GAC provided after its meetings in Puerto Rico in March.

Among that advice is a direction that public Whois records should continue to contain the email address of the registrant after GDPR goes into effect May 25, and that parties with a “legitimate purpose” in Whois data should continue to get access.

Of the 10 pieces of advice, ICANN proposes kicking eight of them down the road to be dealt with at a later date.

It’s given the GAC a face-saving way to back away from these items by clarifying that they refer not to the “interim” Whois model likely to come into effect at the GDPR deadline, but to the “ultimate” model that could come into effect a year later after the ICANN community’s got its shit together.

Attempting to retcon GAC advice is not unusual when ICANN disagrees with its governments, but this time at least it’s being up-front about it.

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby told GAC chair Manal Ismail:

Reaching a common understanding of the GAC’s advice in relation to the Interim Model (May 25) versus the Ultimate Model would greatly assist the Board’s deliberations on the GAC’s advice.

Of the remaining two items of advice, ICANN agrees with one and proposes immediate talks on the other.

One item, concerning the deployment of a Temporary Policy to enforce a uniform Whois on an emergency basis, ICANN says it can accept immediately. Indeed, the Temporary Policy route we first reported on a month ago now appears to be a done deal.

ICANN has asked the GAC for a teleconference this week to discuss the remaining item, which is:

Ensure continued access to the WHOIS, including non-public data, for users with a legitimate purpose, until the time when the interim WHOIS model is fully operational, on a mandatory basis for all contracted parties;

Basically, the GAC is trying to prevent the juicier bits of Whois from going dark for everyone, including the likes of law enforcement and trademark lawyers, two weeks from now.

The problem here is that while ICANN has tacit agreement from European data protection authorities that a tiered-access, accreditation-based model is probably a good idea, no such system currently exists and until very recently it’s not been something in which ICANN has invested a lot of focus.

A hundred or so members of the ICANN community, led by IP lawyers who won’t take no for an answer, are currently working off-the-books on an interim accreditation model that could feasibly be used, but it is still subject to substantial debate.

In any event, it would be basically impossible for any agreed-upon accreditation solution to be implemented across the industry before May 25.

So ICANN has invoked its bylaws fuck-you powers for only the third time in its history.

The first time was when the GAC opposed .xxx for reasons lost in the mists of time back in 2010. The second was in 2014 when the GAC overstepped its powers and told ICANN to ignore the rest of the community on the issue of Red Cross related domains.

The board resolved at a meeting last Thursday:

the Board has determined that it may take an action that is not consistent or may not be consistent with the GAC’s advice in the San Juan Communiqué concerning the GDPR and ICANN’s proposed Interim GDPR Compliance Model, and hereby initiates the required Board-GAC Bylaws Consultation Process required in such an event. The Board will provide written notice to the GAC to initiate the process as required by the Bylaws Consultation Process.

Chalaby asked Ismail (pdf) for a call this week. I don’t know if that call has yet taken place, but given the short notice I expect it has not.

For the record, here’s the GAC’s GDPR advice from its Puerto Rico communique (pdf).

the GAC advises the ICANN Board to instruct the ICANN Organization to:

i. Ensure that the proposed interim model maintains current WHOIS requirements to the fullest extent possible;

ii. Provide a detailed rationale for the choices made in the interim model, explaining their necessity and proportionality in relation to the legitimate purposes identified;

iii. In particular, reconsider the proposal to hide the registrant email address as this may not be proportionate in view of the significant negative impact on law enforcement, cybersecurity and rights protection;

iv. Distinguish between legal and natural persons, allowing for public access to WHOIS data of legal entities, which are not in the remit of the GDPR;

v. Ensure continued access to the WHOIS, including non-public data, for users with a legitimate purpose, until the time when the interim WHOIS model is fully operational, on a mandatory basis for all contracted parties;

vi. Ensure that limitations in terms of query volume envisaged under an accreditation program balance realistic investigatory crossreferencing needs; and

vii. Ensure confidentiality of WHOIS queries by law enforcement agencies.

b. the GAC advises the ICANN Board to instruct the ICANN Organization to:

i. Complete the interim model as swiftly as possible, taking into account the advice above. Once the model is finalized, the GAC will complement ICANN’s outreach to the Article 29 Working Party, inviting them to provide their views;

ii. Consider the use of Temporary Policies and/or Special Amendments to ICANN’s standard Registry and Registrar contracts to mandate implementation of an interim model and a temporary access mechanism; and

iii. Assist in informing other national governments not represented in the GAC of the opportunity for individual governments, if they wish to do so, to provide information to ICANN on governmental users to ensure continued access to WHOIS.

Iceland breaks ranks on Whois, will publish emails

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Policy

Iceland’s ccTLD has become what I believe is the first registry to state that it will continue to publish email addresses in public Whois records after the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect.

The move seems to put the registry, ISNIC, in direct conflict with the opinions of European data protection authorities.

The company said in a statement last week that after GDPR comes into effect May 25 it will stop publishing almost all personal information about .is registrants in the public Whois.

However, it broke ranks with other European ccTLDs and the likely ruleset for ICANN-regulated gTLDs, by saying it would not expunge email addresses:

ISNIC will however, at least for the time being, continue to publish email addresses, country and techincal information of all NIC-handles associated with .is domains. Those customers (individuals) who have recorded a personally identifiable email address, and do not want it published, will need to change their .is WHOIS email address to something impersonal.

Registrants will be able to opt in to having their full details published.

ISNIC appears to be taking a principled stand against the Draconian regulation. It said in a statement:

Assuming that GDPR directive applies fully to the “WHOIS” service provided for decades by most ccTLD registries, these new restrictions will lead to less transparency in domain registrations and less trust in the domain registration system in general. ISNIC, as many others, strongly disagrees with the view of the European parlament [sic] in this matter and warns that GDPR, as it is being implemented, will neither lead to better privacy nor a safer network environment.

It’s a surprising decision, given that privacy regulators have indicated that they agree that email addresses are personal data that should not be published.

The Article 29 Working Party told ICANN earlier this month that it “welcomed” a proposal to replace email addresses with anonymized emails or web-based contact forms.

Bling-maker kills off fifth dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

Richemont, the company behind brands such as Cartier jewelry and Mont Blanc pens, has terminated its fifth dot-brand gTLD.

It filed with ICANN to terminate its registry contract for .iwc earlier this month.

IWC is a Swiss brand of expensive watches, but its dot-brand has never been used to any notable extent.

The company had registered the domain watches.iwc, which it apparently planned to use for URL redirection via Rebrandly.

It’s the third gTLD Richemont has voluntarily terminated, after .montblanc and .chloe last year.

The company also withdrew its unopposed applications for .netaporter and .mrporter back in 2014, before it actually signed contracts with ICANN.

Richemont was one of the more prolific dot-brand applicants, applying for 14 gTLDs in total back in 2012.

It also applied for (defensively?) and won the generic .watches and some translations.

While the .watches gTLD has been live in the DNS for two and a half years, Richemont has not yet set a launch date and has not yet said who will even be eligible to buy domains there.

Marby ponders emergency powers to avoid fragmented Whois

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN could invoke emergency powers in its contracts to prevent Whois becoming “fragmented” after EU privacy laws kick in next month.

That’s a possibility that emerged during a DI interview with ICANN CEO Goran Marby yesterday.

Marby told us that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that European data protection authorities will soon provide clear guidance that will help the domain industry become compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, which becomes fully effective May 25.

But he said that a lack of such guidance will lead to a situation where different companies provide different levels of public Whois.

“It’s a a high probability that Whois goes fragmented or that Whois will be in a sort of ‘thin’ model in which very little information is collected and very little information is displayed,” he said. “That’s a sort of worst-case scenario.”

I should note that the interview was conducted yesterday before news broke that Afilias has become the first major gTLD registry to announce its Whois output will be essentially thin — eschewing all registrant contact data — from May 25.

Marby has asked European DPAs for two things.

First, guidance on whether its “Cookbook” proposal for a dramatically scaled-back, GDPR-compliant Whois is in fact GDPR-compliant.

Second, an enforcement moratorium while registries and registrars actually go about implementing the Cookbook.

“If we don’t get guidance that’s clear enough, we will see a fragmented Whois. If we get guidance that is clear enough we can work it out,” Marby said.

A moratorium could enable Whois to carry on in its current state, or something close to it, while ICANN goes about creating a new policy that fits with the DPA’s guidance.

If the DPAs refuse a moratorium, we’re looking at a black hole of indeterminate duration during which nobody — not even law enforcement or self-appointed trademark cops — can easily access full Whois records.

“It’s not something I can do anything about, it’s really in the hands of the DPAs,” Marby said. “Remember that it’s the law.”

While ICANN has expended most of its effort to date on creating a model for the public Whois, there’s a parallel effort to create an accreditation program that would enable organizations with “legitimate purposes” to access full, or at least more complete, Whois records.

It’s the IP lawyers that are driving this effort, primarily, terrified that their ability to hunt down cybersquatters and bootleggers will be diminished come May 25.

ICANN has so far resisted calls to endorse the so-called “Cannoli” draft accreditation model, with Marby publicly saying that it needs cross-community support.

But the organization has committed staff support resources to discussion of Cannoli. There’s a new mailing list and there will be a community conference call this coming Friday at 1400 UTC.

Marby said that he shares the worries of the IP community, adding: “If we get the proper guidance from the DPAs, we will know how to sort out the accreditation model.”

He met with the Article 29 Working Party, comprised of DPAs, last week; the group agreed to put Whois on its agenda for its meeting next week, April 10-11.

The fact that it’s up for discussion is what gives Marby his cautious optimism that he will get the guidance he needs.

Assuming the DPAs deliver, ICANN is then in the predicament of having to figure out a way to enforce, via its contracts, a Whois system that is compliant with the DPAs’ interpretation of GDPR.

Usually, this would require a GNSO Policy Development Process leading to a binding Consensus Policy.

But Marby said ICANN’s board of directors has other options, such as what he called an “emergency policy”.

This is a reference, I believe, to the “Temporary Policies” clauses, which can be found in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement and Registry Agreement.

Such policies can be mandated by a super-majority vote of the board, would have to be narrowly tailored to solve the specific problem at hand, and could be in effect no longer than one year.

A temporary policy could be replaced by a compatible, community-created Consensus Policy.

It’s possible that a temporary policy could, for example, force Afilias and others to reverse their plans to switch to thin Whois.

But that’s perhaps getting ahead of ourselves.

Fact is, the advice the DPAs provide following their Article 29 meeting next week is what’s going to define Whois for the foreseeable future.

If the guidance is clear, the ICANN organization and community will have their direction of travel mapped out for them.

If it’s vague, wishy-washy, and non-committal, then it’s likely that only the European Court of Justice will be able to provide clarity. And that would take many years.

And whatever the DPAs say, Marby says it is “highly improbable” that Whois will continue to exist in its current form.

“The GDPR will have an effect on the Whois system. Not everybody will get access to the Whois system. Not everybody will have as easy access as before,” he said.

“That’s not a bug, that’s a feature of the legislation,” he said. “That’s not ICANN’s fault, it’s what the legislator thought when it made this legislation. It is the legislators’ intention to make sure people’s data is handled in a different way going forward, so it will have an effect.”

The community awaits the DPAs’ guidance with baited breath.

Community calls on ICANN to cut staff spending

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN should look internally to cut costs before swinging the scythe at the volunteer community.

That’s a key theme to emerge from many comments filed by the community last week on ICANN’s fiscal 2019 budget, which sees spending on staff increase even as revenue stagnates and cuts are made in other key areas.

ICANN said in January that it would have to cut $5 million from its budget for the year beginning July 1, 2018, largely due to a massive downwards revision in how many new gTLD domains it expects the industry to process.

At the same time, the organization said it will increase its payroll by $7.3 million, up to $76.8 million, with headcount swelling to 425 by the end of the fiscal year and staff receiving on average a 2% pay rise.

In comments filed on the budget, many community members questioned whether this growth can be justified.

Among the most diplomatic objections came from the GNSO Council, which said:

In principle, the GNSO Council believes that growth of staff numbers should only occur under explicit justification and replacements due to staff attrition should always occur with tight scrutiny; especially in times of stagnate funding levels.

The Council added that it is not convinced that the proposed budget funds the policy work it needs to do over the coming year.

The Registrars Stakeholder Group noted the increased headcount with concern and said:

Given the overall industry environment where organizations are being asked to do more with less, we are not convinced these additional positions are needed… The RrSG is not yet calling for cuts to ICANN Staff, we believe the organization should strive to maintain headcount at FY17 Actual year-end levels.

The RrSG shared the GNSO Council’s concern that policy work, ICANN’s raison d’etre, may suffer under the proposed budget.

The At-Large Advisory Committee said it “does not support the direction taken in this budget”, adding:

Specifically we see an increase in staff headcount and personnel costs while services to the community have been brutally cut. ICANN’s credibility rests upon the multistakeholder model, and cuts that jeopardize that model should not be made unless there are no alternatives and without due recognition of the impact.

Staff increases may well be justified, but we must do so we a real regard to costs and benefits, and these must be effectively communicated to the community

ALAC is concerned that the budget appears to cut funding to many projects that see ICANN reach out to, and fund participation by, non-industry potential community members.

Calling for “fiscal prudence”, the Intellectual Property Constituency said it “encourages ICANN to take a hard look at personnel costs and the use of outside professional services consultants.”

The IPC is also worried that ICANN may have underestimated the costs of its contractual compliance programs.

The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group had some strong words:

The organisation’s headcount, and personnel costs, cannot continue to grow. We feel strongly that the proposal to grow headcount by 25 [Full-Time Employees] to 425 FTE in a year where revenue has stagnated cannot be justified.

With 73% of the overall budget now being spent on staff and professional services, there is an urgent need to see this spend decrease over time… there is a need to stop the growth in the size of the staff, and to review staff salaries, bonuses, and fringe benefits.

NCSG added that ICANN could perhaps reduce costs by relocating some positions from its high-cost Los Angeles headquarters to the “global south”, where the cost of living is more modest.

The ccNSO Strategic and Operational Planning Standing Committee was the only commentator, that I could find, to straight-up call for a freeze in staff pay rises. While also suggesting moving staff to less costly parts of the globe, it said:

The SOPC – as well as many other community stakeholders – seem to agree that ICANN staff are paid well enough, and sometimes even above market average. Considering the current DNS industry trends and forecasts, tougher action to further limit or even abolish the annual rise in compensation would send a strong positive signal to the community.

It’s been suggested that, when asked to find areas to cut, ICANN department heads prioritized retaining their own staff, which is why we’re seeing mainly cuts to community funding.

I’ve only summarized the comments filed by formal ICANN structures here. Other individuals and organizations filing comments in their own capacity expressed similar views.

I was unable to find a comment explicitly supporting increased staffing costs. Some groups, such as the Registries Stakeholder Group, did not address the issue directly.

While each commentator has their own reasons for wanting to protect the corner of the budget they tap into most often, it’s a rare moment when every segment of the community (commercial and non-commercial, domain industry and IP interests) seem to be on pretty much the same page on an issue.

Registries reject lower fees for anti-abuse prowess

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2018, Domain Policy

Registries have largely rejected a proposal for them to be offered financial incentives to lower the amount of abuse in their gTLDs.

That’s despite the idea gaining broad support from governments, intellectual property interests and restricted-registration registries.

The concept of ICANN offering discounted fees to registries that proactively fight abuse was floated by the Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Review Team (CCT) back in November.

It recommended in its draft report, among other things:

Consider directing ICANN org, in its discussions with registries, to negotiate amendments to existing Registry Agreements, or in negotiations of new Registry Agreements associated with subsequent rounds of new gTLDs to include provisions in the agreements providing incentives, including financial incentives for registries, especially open registries, to adopt proactive anti-abuse measures.

“Proactive” in this case would mean measures such as preventing known bad actors from registering domains, rather than just waiting for complaints to be filed.

Given that registries have been calling for lower ICANN fees in other instances, one might expect to see support from that constituency.

However, the Registries Stakeholder Group said in a document filed to ICANN’s public comment period on the CCT’s latest recommendations that, it “opposes” the idea of such financial incentives. It said:

The RySG supports recognizing and supporting the many [registry operators] that take steps to discourage abuse, but opposes amending the RA as recommended, to mandate or incentivize ‘proactive’ anti-abuse measures.

The RySG complained that such a system would require lots of complex work to arrive at a definition of abuse and what kinds of measures would qualify as “proactive”.

Even if such definitions could be found, and amendments to the standard RA successfully negotiated, there’s still no guarantee that bad registries would sign up for the incentives or stick to their promises, “resulting in no net improvement to the current situation”, the RySG said.

The group is also concerned that adding more anti-abuse clauses to the RA could increase registries’ risk of liability should they be sued over abuse carried out by their customers.

Not all registries agreed with the RySG position, however.

The informal Verified Top-Level Domains Consortium, which comprises the two registries behind .bank, .insurance and .pharmacy, filed comments supporting the proposal.

It said that gTLDs with vetted eligibility requirements see no abuse but have lower registration volumes and therefore pay higher ICANN fees on a per-domain basis. It said:

ICANN should help to offset these costs to create a more level playing field with high-volume unrestricted registries, i.e., to enhance competition as well as consumer trust. If ICANN made it more financially advantageous to verify eligibility, other registries may be encouraged to adopt this model. The outcome would be the elimination of abuse in these verified TLDs.

Outside of the industry itself, the Governmental Advisory Committee and IP interests such as the Intellectual Property Constituency and INTA, filed comments supporting anti-abuse incentives.

The IPC “strongly” supported the recommendation, but added that the finer details would need to be worked out to ensure that lower ICANN fees did not translate automatically to lower registration fees and therefore more abuse.

Shocking nobody, it added that “abuse” should include intellectual property infringements.

Conversely, the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group said it “strongly” opposes the recommendation, on the basis that it would push ICANN into a “content policeman” role in violation of its technical mandate:

ICANN is not a US Federal Trade Commission or an anti-fraud unit or regulatory unit of any government. Providing guidance, negotiation and worse yet, financial incentives to ICANN-contracted registries for anti-abuse measures is completely outside of our competence, goals and mandates. Such acts would bring ICANN straight into the very content issues that passionately divide countries — including speech laws, competition laws, content laws of all types. It would invalidate ICANN commitments to ourselves and the global community. It would make ICANN the policemen of the Internet, not the guardians of the infrastructure. It is a role we have sworn not to undertake; a role beyond our technical expertise; and a recommendation we must not accept.

Also opposed to incentivizing anti-abuse measures was the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (an independent entity, not an ICANN working group), which said there’s no data to support such a recommendation.

The reports provide no data that showcase what the implications of altering the economic underpinnings of a highly competitive market may entail, including inadvertent side effects such as registries that already sell low price domains being rewarded with lower ICANN fees. In fact, it may ultimately result in a race to the bottom and higher rates of domain abuse.

Instead, M3AAWG said that ICANN should concentrate is contractual compliance efforts on those registries that the data shows already have large amounts of abuse — presumably meaning the likes of .top, .gdn and the Famous Four Media stable.

ICANN itself filed a comment on the proposal, pointing out that it is not able to unilaterally impose anti-abuse measures into registry agreements.

One imagines that lowering fees at a time when its own budget is under a lot of pressure would probably not be something ICANN would be eager to implement.

These comments and more were summarized in ICANN’s report on the CCT public comment period, published yesterday. The comments themselves can be found here.

The comments feed back into the CCT review team’s work ahead of its final report, which is due to be published some time during Q1.

Under its bylaws, the CCT review is one of the things that ICANN has to complete before it opens the next round of new gTLD applications.